Tags: Headteacher | School Leadership & Management | SEN – Special Educational Needs | SENCO

Recent statements from the DfES raise questions over the admission of pupils with special educational needs to the self-governing ‘trust’ schools proposed in the new education white paper.

In a recent letter to 150 local authorities Ian Coates, head of the Special Educational Needs and Disability division at the DfES said that local authorities do not have the right to name city academies in statements of special needs. This contrasts with recent assurances from another representative of the DfES that trust schools will be obliged to accept statemented pupils.

Academies are the model for trust schools (see also the article below). The government sees them as the main solution to the failure of inner-city secondary schools and wishes their number expand to 200 by 2010. Maintained schools are obliged to accept children named by a local authority in a statement of special educational needs.

However, Mr Coates’ letter withdraws this right in the case of academies. When a dispute over admission arises between a local authority and an academy it will be referred to a resolution service. This will clearly impact on the ability of pupils with special needs to gain entry to such schools.

In his letter Mr Coates says: ‘Where the academy is of the opinion that the child’s attendance at the school would be incompatible with the efficient education of the other children and there are no reasonable steps that could be taken to prevent that incompatibility and consequently does not consent to being named in the child’s statement, the local authority should not name the academy.’

Mr Coates’s letter contrasts with statements made to the parliamentary SEN inquiry on 14 November by Andrew McCully, delivery director for the School Standards Group. Responding to questions as to whether the proposed trust schools would be willing to take pupils with special needs if they had independent control of their admissions policy, he insisted that they would have to take them. ‘These are maintained schools,’ he said, ‘not independent schools outside the maintained system.’*

Further pressed on the question, he said: ‘If you set criteria which exclude pupils with special educational needs, that would be demonstrably unfair and would be directly in contravention to the law and indeed would not be having regard to the Code of Admissions.’*

As the government discusses its white paper proposals in the weeks ahead the general issue of school admissions is likely to be fiercely debated. The impact of proposed new admissions policies on pupils with SEN is likely to feature strongly and to challenge the imperative of parental choice that is such a key feature of the white paper.

*Statements from the uncorrected transcript. Participants have not yet had the opportunity to correct the record.

This article first appeared in SENCO Update – Dec 2005

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